BUCKHANNON - U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., encouraged conversation on healthcare, energy, foreign policy and other topics Monday during a "Coffee and Common Sense" town hall meeting at the Virginia Thomas Law Center for the Performing Arts at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
One of Manchin's overarching themes was dismantling extremism in American politics. It's impossible to make progress when Democrats and Republics put their parties before the greater good, he said.
"We don't need extremes. If you give me someone from the Far Left and the Far Right, I'm going to get nothing done," Manchin said. "When it comes down to it, we have to be able to put our state before our party. I see trickling down this visceral approach of scorching the whole system. We can't let that happen."
The Inter-Mountain photo by Roger Adkins
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D.W.Va., talks about foreign policy Monday during a ‘Coffee and Common Sense’ town hall meeting at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Wesleyan President Dr. Pamela Balch was pleased with Manchin's honest discussion of the issues. She also appreciated that he brought a West Virginian's perspective to the table.
"I think he's down to Earth and honest. He has a lot of sincerity, and it's pretty clear he's trying to make a difference for our state and our country," Balch said. "It's very important that we never forget our grassroots, even if at times we're at odds with others. He's very careful not to push one party over the other."
Balch said the college was pleased to offer a chance for students, faculty and community members to sit in on the exchange.
"Events like this are good because they create an opportunity for students to have first-hand experiences with government and politics," she said.
Andrew Flores is studying political science and criminal justice at the college. He said Monday's town hall discussion provided a great forum for open dialogue.
"It's a great opportunity for students to hear about the topics that we'll be facing when we enter the working world," Flores said. "I think he had a good point when he says that we should put our country before our party."
During the conversation, Manchin told the audience he has often been at odds with the Obama administration's energy policy. He often finds it unreasonable and unrealistic, he said.
Manchin said he believes a well-rounded energy policy should include all sources, from renewable energy to fossil fuels, all used with great responsibility.
"Respectfully, they will not look at an energy policy that includes fossils," Manchin said. "The Department of Energy recognizes that this country cannot run without natural gas, without coal and without oil. But they do nothing to support it."
It's crucial to focus on developing the technology to use energy efficiently and safely, Manchin said. In addition to investing in the technology for renewable energy, funding should continue to be provided for research into cleaner methods of burning coal.
Millions in research funding is sitting idle at the Department of Energy, and the private sector is afraid to step up to the plate because of fear of an anti-fossil fuel mentality in Washington.
"There are 8 billion tons of coal being burned in the world. In the United States, we burn less than 1 billion. There's been a perception that if you quit burning coal in America you clean up the climate, right? That means you believe the wind and ocean currents start and stop in North America," Manchin said.
"Now, I'm not a denier. I believe that 7 billion people have impacted the environment and that we have a responsibility. With that being said, we also have a responsibility to be in the real world. The real world is this: China is going to burn 4 billion tons a year whether you like it or not. India's on the way to exceeding 2 billion. There are going to be 1,200 new coal-fired power plants in the world within the next four to five years," he added.
The Affordable Care Act also was a topic of discussion during the town hall meeting. Manchin reiterated that it was not his favorite choice for addressing the healthcare crisis in the United States. But now that it has been implemented, there's little to be gained by endless attempts to repeal it, he said.
"I would have done something completely different. But I'd rather try to fix what we've got than try to repeal it. My reason for fixing it versus repealing it is I haven't seen anything come along saying here's your alternative. Vote for this instead," Manchin said.
The Affordable Care Act created a product that the market was not prepared to accept, Manchin said.
"I'm not a fan of mandates. We can't make you buy something you don't want to buy. And we can't make you pay for something you can't afford. We just can't. We can't give you something we really want to give you because we can't afford it," he said.
But like most markets, Manchin believes the healthcare market will begin to regulate itself over time.
"You'll put pressure on the system to make that happen," he said.
Manchin also discussed the Middle East, as well as the ongoing conflict between the Ukraine and Russia.
"The world is at a real crossroads. It's troubled. I'm concerned. I'm concerned about what's going on and has happened," he said.
Manchin said he believes the United States could help the Ukraine. But regarding the Middle East, he believes there is no benefit to providing arms and training to rebels because those arms and that training eventually could be used against American interests if those personnel are later folded into a terrorist regime.
"If military might and money were going to change the Middle East, we would be done by now. We've lost over 7,000 Americans. Wounded and maimed 35,000 to 40,000. We've spent over $3 trillion. We cannot change the course of sectarian wars that have been going on for 1,400 years," he said.
Manchin had a different view of terrorists that pose a direct threat to America.
"If you're training terrorists to do harm to America, we'll get you wherever you are. There will be no protection. We will use all of our technology and our military might to strike you and strike you hard," he said.
Manchin also spoke in Philippi and at Tucker County High School Monday.
Today he is scheduled to stop at the following places in Pendleton and Pocahontas counties:
- At 10 a.m., he will visit with students and answer questions at the Pendleton County High School in Franklin.
- At 11:45 a.m., he will be receiving an operational update on the Sugar Grove Naval Base while visiting their facility.
- At 3 p.m., he will visit the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Science Center in Green Bank.